Dominic Buettner for The New York Times

Why is that man above smiling? David Jeselsohn bought an ancient tablet, above, but he was totally unaware of its significance. Now it may be the earliest Jewish evidence for the idea of a dying and rising messiah figure

There just isn’t enough controversy in Israel these days about Jesus, his death, burial and his resurrection. So, adding a little fuel to the fire is the revelation that comes from the finding of a substantial inscribed stone, probably dating to the first century B.C. that may refer to the death and resurrection of some sort of messiah figure. Here is the link to the NY Times which Bill Barnwell has kindly reminded me of, as I seem to have missed it.

I take quite seriously the authenticity of this stone, since Ada Yardeni has weighed in on it, and found it genuine. So let us suppose it is genuine– let’s ask the question, So what?

If you read the article you will discover that one eclectic Jewish scholar is now suggesting that the Christians got the idea from this stone or its source, and then predicated the idea of Jesus. It would be just as simple to argue that Jesus knew of this idea, and predicated of himself. What this stone then would show is that there was in early Judaism some concept of a suffering messiah whom God might vindicate by resurrection before the time of Jesus.

This is not entirely surprising in view of Isaiah 53 in any case. But the real implication of this for Jesus’ studies should not be missed. Most radical Jesus scholars have argued that the passion and resurrection predictions by Jesus found in the Gospels were not actually made by Jesus– they reflect the later notions and theologizing of the Evangelists.

But now, if this stone is genuine there is no reason to argue this way. One can show that Jesus, just as well as the author of this stone, could have spoken about a dying and rising messiah. There is in any case a reference to a messiah who dies in the late first century A.D. document called 4 Ezra.

Long story short– this stone certainly does not demonstrate that the Gospel passion stories are created on the basis of this stone text, which appears to be a Dead Sea text. For one thing the text is hard to read at crucial junctures, and it is not absolutely clear it is talking about a risen messiah. BUT what it does do is make plausible that Jesus could have said some of the things credited to him in Mk. 8.31, 9,31, and 10.33-34. I will have more to say about the relevance of early Jewish material for the study of the historical Jesus shortly, in a lengthy review of David Flusser’s final and interesting Jesus book The Sage from Galilee.

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